There was a quiet buzz around the room, as teachers conferred with their colleagues.
They were working in teams, planning projects they will use in the coming year that will infuse technology into their daily teaching.
The 20 teachers, from across Pasco County, were part of the Teacher Technology Summer Institute that recently wrapped up at the University of Saint Leo, near Dade City.
They were there on their own time — eager to learn how they can take advantage of technology to improve student learning.
In selecting teachers for the technology institute, the university wasn’t looking for evidence of “tech wizardry” in the applications, said Holly Atkins, associate professor of education at Saint Leo. Rather, it was seeking “teachers who are very student-centered, and really eager and open to learning more.”
Saint Leo fully understands the value of infusing technology in classrooms, Atkins said.
“We have a foundation of people who have the idea that the best use of technology is when it moves from the teacher’s hands to the students, so that they are engaged and they are creating,” she said.
“We not only encourage, we require, our student teachers to really become proficient at using the technology,” Atkins said.
But, the university has noticed it students often face a different scenario when they begin their student teacher experiences.
“Some of these students (student teachers) said, ‘My teacher doesn’t know how to use the tools. My teacher doesn’t let me use the tools,’” Atkins said.
The technology institute is part of the university’s service to the community, Atkins said.
“But, it also serves our education department and our own students, because the teachers that are in there (the institute) right now, almost all of them have received clinical instructor training. This enables them to host a student teacher,” Atkins said.
Teachers at the institute each could choose a technological tool to take back to their classroom. Their options were a class set of Virtual Reality headsets, a Microsoft Surface Pro, an iPad or a MimeoTeach, which is a toolbar that turns any whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard.
The institute addresses the four elements that teachers need to be successful at infusing technology into their teaching, Atkins said.
Teachers need the technological tool, they need training, they need time to practice using it and they need teams — so they can encourage and help each other enhance their skills.
“A teacher’s toolbox today should be broadening, rather than shrinking,” Atkins said. “So, it should be filled with chart paper and markers and all that good stuff, and also iPads and interactive whiteboards. It’s not an ‘either/or’ it’s an ‘and.’,” she said.
Like any other tool, technology needs to be used when it’s appropriate, Atkins said.
“So, just like any kind of skilled craftsman, the accomplished teacher looks at student learning needs, opens up his or her toolbox and says, ‘What’s the best tool to make this happen?’”
This year’s crop of 20 teachers came from schools including Pine View Middle School, Pine View Elementary and Sanders Memorial S.T.E.A.M. Magnet Elementary in Land O’ Lakes and Quail Hollow Elementary in Wesley Chapel.
They were enthusiastic about the opportunity to build on their technological skills.
“Being at Sanders, we’re very fortunate. We already have a 1-to-1 ratio with devices,” said Megan Bender, a third-grade teacher.
But she was delighted to learn more about various apps and websites, and to hear the creative approaches used by other teachers.
“Getting all of these ideas is so exciting,” Bender said.
Mitzi Whitaker, another Sanders teacher, noted that both teachers and students came to the magnet school from across Pasco County.
So, they arrived there with various levels of technical knowledge, Whitaker said.
Even with a year of experience behind them, technology is constantly evolving, she said.
“We’re going to always be changing up our game,” Whitaker said.
This is the third year that Saint Leo has hosted the technology institute, which was paid for with grants the first two years and from the university’s budget this year.
The university also added a Teacher Technology Leadership Institute, also paid for through university funds.
The leadership institute involved 10 teachers who had completed the technology institute, Atkins said.
As part of their leadership development, those teachers will serve as mentors during the coming school year to the teachers who just finished the technology institute.
The teachers in the technology institute will be conducting a research project throughout the school year, measuring the success of a particular technology tool in connection with student learning.
They’ll convene at the the end of the school year to see how the research went.
Jennifer Ippolito and Desi Krell, teachers at Pine View Middle, welcomed the chance to work on teams for the research.
They said they already work together on projects, and the institute has helped them take that collaboration to the next level.
Julie Saez, a teacher at Watergrass Elementary School, was thrilled when she was selected to be part of the leadership institute.
She said she knew it would be worthwhile because of her positive experience at the technology institute.
“The collaboration with everybody was exactly what I needed,” she added, noting that she formed lasting friendships and established valuable professional relationships.
“We’re like-minded people — always looking for new, upcoming technology,” Saez said.
Published July 13, 2016